MJF’s Next Generation Festival charges Monterey with the most talented young jazz energy out there.
Thursday, April 8, 2010
It’s been several decades since jazz attained all the hallmarks of a fine art form, with degrees offered at top universities, regular performances in international concert halls, and a steady flow of doctoral dissertations examining the music and its creators. But in many ways, America’s indigenous style still functions like a folk art, with a lively oral tradition that plays a central role in jazz’s transmission from one generation to the next.
The Monterey Jazz Festival’s Next Generation Festival celebrates both aspects of the music, showcasing the finest junior high, high school and college jazz programs while providing precious opportunities for aspiring musicians to glean wisdom firsthand from experienced veterans.
The festival kicks off on Friday night (April 2) at the Monterey Conference Center with a freewheeling performance featuring the prodigious cast of professional musicians serving as competition adjudicators, including piano master Alan Pasqua, powerhouse drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, rising trumpet star Ambrose Akinmusire, stalwart bassist Ray Drummond, and tenor saxophone titan Billy Harper, who made a name for himself in the late 1960s playing and recording with legends like Max Roach, Art Blakey and Lee Morgan.
Friday’s concert, which like all NGF events is free, also features the celebrated singer Dianne Reeves, the MJF’s 2010 Artist-in-Residence. Possessing one of the most glorious voices in jazz, the four-time Grammy Award winner knows all about the powerful impact a generous mentor can have on a young musician.
While her jazz roots run deep – her cousin, pianist/arranger George Duke, has produced many of her Blue Note albums, and her uncle is an accomplished jazz bassist who spent four decades in the Colorado Symphony – Reeves credits trumpet great Clark Terry with providing critical guidance when he discovered her as a high school student with more technique than she knew what to do with.
Terry, who has mentored generations of musicians dating back to Miles Davis in the 1940s, brought Reeves into the orbit of Sarah Vaughan, who was more of a role model for the young singer than a hands-on teacher.
“She totally understood harmony and she used a broad range of timbres, colors and phrasing to make a song come alive, not necessarily from a lyrical standpoint, but from an instrumental standpoint, as a voice,” Reeves says. “She viewed herself as a vocalist who defied category. It was through her that I understood that each song has its own unique life, and you approach the song from that standpoint.”
“I remember later on when I was about 19 years old, I was performing with Clark Terry and we were opening for her when she was with the Basie band,” Reeves continues. “She listened to me out in the audience for the entire show, and then afterwards she said, ‘As long as I live, I’ll never want you to open for me again,’ and I actually started crying. Everybody said ‘No, that’s a compliment!’ She was hard in her way, but she let me know it was alright.”
Tears may be shed at downtown Monterey’s Conference Center during the student competitions on Saturday and Sunday, when 63 big bands, combos and vocal ensembles from 13 states vie for top honors, which include invitations to perform at the MJF in September. But before they face off for the judges, the students get a chance to stretch out on Friday night following the judges’ kick-off concert, when the Nadia Washington Quartet anchor the student jam session in the Serra Ballroom.
A senior at Boston’s vaunted Berklee College of Music, Washington is a soulful vocalist, savvy bandleader and skillful arranger who leads a combo with top scholarship students she met at Berklee. She started making a name for herself performing at NARAS events around the country as a member of the Gibson/Baldwin Grammy Jazz Ensemble. And in 2006, she was named the Outstanding Jazz Vocalist of the Monterey High School Jazz Festival (which morphed into the Next Generation Festival the following year).
On Saturday afternoon in the Serra Ballroom the quartet teaches a performance clinic “Voice + Rhythm = Band,” offering the assembled high school musicians insight into how vocalists can lead, and thrive in, a working band. In many ways, Washington is passing on the knowledge she gained as a senior at the Fairgrounds back in 2006, when she attended a similar clinic offered by vocalist Kurt Elling.
“The subject was getting what you need out of the band, and it was one of the most insightful sessions I’ve ever been part of,” Washington recalls.
“One of the simplest things he talked about, counting off the band, was so important. You can demand a lot of different things just by how you count off the tempo. If you count off timidly, they’ll play timidly. If you count of confidently, they’ll play confidently. He talked about how to listen and pick things up from the band, and how you can use your hands, theatrically, to tell the story.”